IndyCar legend Mario Andretti navigates personal losses, loneliness of pandemic

IndyCar Mario Andretti pandemic
Joe Skibinski/IndyCar
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Mario Andretti is loneliest at night, when he’s home alone in his sprawling Pennsylvania mansion, and there’s no one to talk to but Gonzo, his 34-year-old Amazon parrot.

One of the greatest racers of all time is struggling, not unlike so many people around the world during this pandemic that has devastated families and claimed more than 3 million lives.

His sister and his wife died months apart in 2018 and maybe those back-to-back losses, and the hardness toward death that is inherent to racers accustomed to losing fellow competitors, should have prepared Andretti for 2020.

But the blows were just too deep. Just too cruel.

His beloved nephew John Andretti lost his three-year fight with colon cancer in early 2020, a death that shook the family. It came about six weeks before the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, and Andretti suddenly had nowhere to go.

There is no bigger star at a racetrack than Mario Andretti, the only driver to win the Formula One championship, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. And when all the racetracks were closed, his world became very, very small.

“Before COVID, at least he was getting out, doing stuff he liked, and then he lost all his endorsements, and he was just sitting at home and he’s there by himself,” said Michael Andretti, gesturing across the Andretti Autosport hospitality center to his 81-year-old masked father mingling with guests at IndyCar’s season-opening race. “He needs something to do at the racetrack to feel alive.”

The call Andretti never prepared himself for came Dec. 30 when his twin brother died of complications from COVID-19. Both Aldo Andretti and his wife had contracted the virus; she recovered and went home, but he remained hospitalized, refused to be placed on a ventilator and died.

“Aldo Andretti, my loving twin brother, my partner in crime and my faithful best friend every day of my life was called to heaven last night. Half of me went with him. There is no eloquence. I’m shaken to my core,” Andretti tweeted.

Andretti said he and grandson Marco had traveled together to Indianapolis on Dec. 7 for physicals and visited with Aldo, found him “jovial, same as ever,” and 23 days later, he was dead.

In a nearly hourlong interview at Barber Motorsports Park with The Associated Press, Andretti talked about emigrating from Italy to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in 1955 on a Thursday night. They were World War II children who had grown up sharing a bed, whispering in the dark about Ferrari, Nino Farina and Alberto Ascari, wondering if the Andretti boys might someday have their own chance to be famous race car drivers.

Four days after arriving in the U.S. they saw the bright lights of Nazareth Speedway, where a modified race was being held. The brothers were 17, four years away from the legal age to compete, without a car but “driven by a passion and a love, and as a kid you are allowed to have your dreams,” he said.

By 1959, they had one car built for the two of them to share. Aldo won the coin flip and the right to enter the first race. He won.

The Andretti boys raced all year without telling their father. In the season finale, Aldo flipped his car and spent four days in a coma. A decade later, Mario won the only Indy 500 for motorsports’ most famed family; three months later, at a dirt track in Iowa, Aldo was hospitalized following a horrific accident.

Mario boarded Andy Granatelli’s private plane, flew to Iowa and told Aldo that Aldo was never racing again. They’d buy a tire shop, and Aldo would become a businessman and leave the racing to the rest of the Andretti family.

“I told him right there in the hospital, `There is a black cloud over your head and if something is in front of you, you will hit it,’ ” Andretti said. “But he couldn’t just walk away from racing. He needed goals, and he didn’t want a handout. So he had to have something to do.”

It’s no different for Andretti himself, who refuses to come to the racetrack just to hang out. His son Michael runs Andretti Autosport and grandson Marco decided in January he doesn’t want to run full-time IndyCar anymore.

When IndyCar resumed last June, Andretti still had something to do at the track as the driver of the popular “Fastest Seat in Sports” program that pairs him with a celebrity, dignitary or influencer in a two-seater that leads the field to green before each race. The program had been sponsored by Honda but ended in an embarrassing fiasco at last season’s finale when a participant intimated to Andretti that it was his final weekend as driver.

In reality, Honda was ending its sponsorship of the program that also includes prerace rides for VIPs. Michael Andretti and his sales team spent months seeking a company willing to continue the two-seater program, and Ruoff Mortgage debuted at Barber as the new sponsor.

Ruoff Mortgage has been an Andretti Autosport partner in the past, debuting in 2017 on Takuma Sato’s Indianapolis 500 winning car.

“I made a joke that I was the sponsor for my dad,” Michael Andretti said.

It’s not clear if Andretti Autosport moved money from its budget to the two-seater program, but Michael Andretti said his father “won’t come here unless he has a reason to come here, and I know that I really tried hard to find something for that program.”

Mario Andretti at Carb Day for the 2020 Indianapolis 500 (Joe Skibinski/IndyCar).

Mario Andretti went directly from Barber to St. Petersburg, Florida, site of this weekend’s race. His relationship with Michael never has been closer, he said. His other son, Jeff, lives in Arizona. At home in Pennsylvania, his nearby daughter, Barbie, constantly ensures he’s got enough to eat. Marco lives next door and sees him most often, and in this new world of Zoom, not a day goes by without an interview request.

At night, it’s just him and Gonzo. He said he talks to the bird, and the bird talks back. He arrived in Nazareth 66 years ago, met wife Dee Ann there, loves his home and has no plans to leave.

“You know, I am lonely and after Aldo, I asked myself, where I am supposed to be? What I am supposed to do?” Andretti said. “Am I supposed to put my chin in my socks? Or am I supposed to look at the life that I have left, the kids, the family?

“This is my life. I cannot imagine any other life, being satisfied with any other life that did not include racing. I never had any Plan B. So on I go.”

IndyCar Detroit Grand Prix: How to watch, start times, TV, schedules, streaming

IndyCar Detroit start times
Ryan Garza/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The NTT IndyCar Series will return to the Motor City for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix but with start times in a new location for 2023.

After a 30-year run on Belle Isle, the Detroit GP has moved a few miles south to the streets of downtown on a new nine-turn, 1.7-mile circuit that runs along the Detroit River.

It’s the first time single-seater open-cockpit cars have raced on the streets of Detroit since a CART event on a 2.5-mile downtown layout from 1989-91. Formula One also raced in Detroit from 1982-88.

The reimagined Detroit Grand Prix also will play host to nightly concerts and bring in venders from across the region. Roger Penske predicts the new downtown locale will be bigger for Detroit than when the city played host to the 2006 Super Bowl.

Here are the details and IndyCar start times for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race weekend (all times are ET):


TV: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on NBC and streaming on Peacock, the NBC Sports App and Leigh Diffey is the announcer with analysts Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe. Dave Burns, Marty Snider and Kevin Lee are the pit reporters. Click here for the full NBC Sports schedule for IndyCar in 2023.

Peacock also will be the streaming broadcast for both practices and qualifying.

POSTRACE SHOW ON PEACOCK: After the race’s conclusion, an exclusive postrace show will air on Peacock with driver interviews, postrace analysis and the podium presentation. To watch the extended postrace show, click over to the special stream on Peacock after Sunday’s race ends.


GREEN FLAG: 3:30 p.m. ET

PRACTICE: Friday, 3 p.m. (Peacock Premium); Saturday, 9:05 a.m. (Peacock Premium); Sunday, 10 a.m. (Peacock Premium)

QUALIFYING: Saturday, 1:20 p.m. (Peacock Premium)

RACE DISTANCE: The race is 100 laps (170 miles) on a nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course in downtown Detroit.

TIRE ALLOTMENT: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate. Rookie drivers are allowed one extra primary set for the first practice.

PUSH TO PASS: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 15 seconds per activation (Indy NXT: 150 seconds total, 15 seconds per). The push-to-pass is not available on the initial start or any restart unless it occurs in the final two laps or three minutes of a timed race. The feature increases the power of the engine by approximately 60 horsepower.

FORECAST: According to, it’s expected to be 80 degrees with a 0% chance of rain.

ENTRY LIST: Click here to view the 27 drivers racing Sunday at Detroit

INDY NXT RACES: Saturday, 12:05 p.m. 45 laps/55 minutes (Peacock Premium); Sunday, 12:50 p.m. 45 laps/55 minutes (Peacock Premium)

INDY NXT ENTRY LISTClick here to view the 19 drivers racing at Detroit


(All times are Eastern)

Friday, June 2

8:30-9:30 a.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

9:50-10:20 a.m.: Trans Am Series practice

11:40 a.m.-12:40 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge practice

1-1:30 p.m.: Trans Am Series practice

1:50-2:40 p.m.: Indy NXT practice

3-4:30 p.m.: IndyCar practice, Peacock

4:50-5:05 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge qualifying

5:30-6 p.m.: IndyNXT qualifying (Race 1 and 2)

6-7:15 p.m.: A-Track concert (Hart Plaza Stage)

7:30-8:30 p.m.: Big Boi concert (Hart Plaza Stage)

Saturday, June 3

8:15-8:45 a.m.: Trans Am Series qualifying

9:05-10:05 a.m.: IndyCar practice, Peacock

10:35-11:35 a.m.: Trans Am Series, 3-Dimensional Services Group Muscle Car Challenge

12:05-1:00 p.m.: Indy NXT, Race 1 (45 laps or 55 minutes), Peacock

1:15-2:45 p.m.: IndyCar qualifying, Peacock

4:10-5:50 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, Chevrolet Detroit Sports Car Classic (100 minutes), Peacock

5:30-7 p.m.: Z-Trip concert (Hart Plaza Stage)

7-8:30 p.m.: Steve Aoki concert (Hart Plaza Stage)

Sunday, June 4

10:00-10:30 a.m.: IndyCar warmup, Peacock

11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Trans Am Series, 3-Dimensional Services Group Motor City Showdown

12:50-1:45 p.m.: Indy NXT, Race 2 (45 laps or 55 minutes), Peacock

2:47 p.m.: IndyCar driver introductions

3:23 p.m.: Command to start engines

3:30 p.m.: Green flag for the Chevrolet Detroit Prix, presented by Lear (100 laps/170 miles), NBC


ROUND 1Marcus Ericsson wins wild opener in St. Petersburg

ROUND 2Josef Newgarden wins Texas thriller over Pato O’Ward

ROUND 3: Kyle Kirkwood breaks through for first career IndyCar victory

ROUND 4: Scott McLaughlin outduels Romain Grosjean at Barber

ROUND 5: Alex Palou dominant in GMR Grand Prix

ROUND 6: Josef Newgarden wins first Indy 500 in 12th attempt 


Inside Team Penske’s bid win another Indy 500 for “The Captain”

Annual photo shows women having an impact on Indy 500 results

Roger Penske feeling hale at another Indy 500 as Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner

Honda needed 45 seconds to approve Graham Rahal racing a Chevy at Indy

A.J. Foyt takes refuge at Indy 500 while weathering grief of wife’s death

Gordon Johncock: The most unassuming Indy 500 legend

Alex Palou on his Indy 500 pole, multitasking at 224 mph and a Chip Ganassi surprise

Marcus Ericsson, engineer Brad Goldberg have ties that run very deep

New competition elements for 2023 include an alternate oval tire

Indy 500 will be Tony Kanaan’s final race

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host a race

IndyCar team owners weigh in on marketing plans, double points

Alexander Rossi fitting in well at McLaren

Phoenix takes flight: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

Helio Castroneves says 2023 season is “huge” for IndyCar future

How Sting Ray Robb got that name

Kyle Larson having impact on future McLaren teammates

Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing former teammate Josef Newgarden

HOW TO WATCH INDYCAR IN 2023Full NBC Sports schedule